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    The Doha Development Agenda: Work Begins on Substance


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2002 

    After the World Trade Organization's Fourth Ministerial Conference held in Doha, Qatar in November 2001, delegations in Geneva worked immediately to set in place the machinery for the new trade negotiations. They had no time to lose as ministers have set a three-year deadline - up to 1 January 2005 - to complete the Doha Development Agenda.

    By mid-summer 2002, delegations were able to adopt the negotiating structure and procedures that have turned attention from process to the substance of the new World Trade Organization (WTO) work programme.

    WTO members were also able to decide relatively quickly where and when to hold the next Ministerial Conference. In December 2001, they accepted Mexico's offer to host the meeting, which will be held in Cancun from 10 to 14 September 2003.

    From structures... 

    The Director-General restructured the WTO Secretariat to align the organization with the new Doha work programme. The budget also reflected the new emphasis on technical cooperation, especially for helping least developed countries to participate effectively in the negotiations.

    The Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), chaired by the Director-General, oversees the negotiations. In July 2002, the chairpersons of the various TNC bodies reported that work in their respective areas was going well.

    The one major unresolved issue - the deadline for agreement on modalities for negotiations in the Negotiating Group on Market Access - was resolved during the course of the meeting.

    ...to substance 

    Two of the TNC bodies started work at the beginning of 2000: the Special Sessions of the Committee on Agriculture and of the Council for Trade in Services, as the Uruguay Round agreements mandated further negotiations in these two areas.

    • Agriculture. In agriculture, recent discussions focused on export competition, and work will proceed on market access and domestic support in September.
    • Services. In services, members have been working on assessing trade in services, the treatment of autonomous liberalization, special treatment for least developed countries, rules on safeguards, subsidies and government procurement, movement of natural persons, and development of any necessary disciplines for domestic regulations dealing with licensing requirements, qualification requirements and technical standards. Members have also started presenting specific requests on liberalization measures they wish other members to take.
    • Intellectual property. Also mandated in the Uruguay Round was the negotiation of a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits. This is taking place in the Special Session of the Council for Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which had agreed on a suggested target of September 2002 to submit proposals.
    • Trade rules. The Negotiating Group on Rules has received a significant number of negotiating proposals, including those on antidumping, fisheries subsidies and regional trade agreements.
    • Market access. The Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-Agricultural Products has started discussing proposals on cutting tariffs and reducing non-tariff barriers. The least developed countries have urged the removal of duties and quotas on their exports to developed countries.
    • Environment. Many papers have also been put forward in the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment. Members have agreed to devote the fourth and final meeting this year to an information session with multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).
    • Dispute settlement. The Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body has adopted a "two-track" approach: a general discussion of the issues and objectives for the negotiations is taking place under Track 1, in parallel with a discussion of specific proposals under Track 2. Currently, the work is concentrating on Track 2 with a view to completing the discussion of all the issues raised in the proposals by the end of this year. The Doha Ministerial Declaration has mandated an early deadline for this group: completion of an agreed text by May 2003.
    • "Special and differential treatment". The Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development agreed, on 24 July 2002, on a report to the General Council on special and differential treatment for developing countries, a first step in a task mandated in Doha. The report recommended that the General Council agree to set up a "monitoring mechanism" for special and differential treatment - the term used in the WTO for provisions that take the special situation of developing countries into account, and an issue that many developing country member governments consider a priority. Details would then be worked out in the Special Session of the Trade and Development Committee. The report also includes a summary of the discussions so far, with over 80 proposals presented. It recommends that the General Council approve extending until 31 December 2002 the deadline for "clear recommendations for decision". Originally, WTO ministers had instructed the committee to make the recommendations to the WTO General Council by 31 July 2002.

      In his July 2002 report to the General Council, the TNC chairman said that "overall, the work is moving at steady and deliberate speed". He added, "The road map [to Cancun] is clear, that we know the deadlines, and that everybody here is committed to meeting those deadlines."

      At Cancun, ministers will not only undertake a mid-term review of the negotiations but also decide on the modalities for negotiations of the so-called "Singapore issues" (studies that were initiated at the first Ministerial Conference held in 1996 in Singapore): investment; competition policy; transparency in government procurement; and trade facilitation.


    Doha Development Agenda structure 

    Trade Negotiations Committee 

    The Trade Negotiations Committee, set up by the Doha Declaration, is under the authority of the General Council. The Chairperson is the WTO Director-General in his official capacity until the end of the negotiations, set for 1 January 2005.

    Negotiating groups 

    New groups 

    • Market access (on non-agricultural products).
    • Rules (antidumping, subsidies, regional trade agreements).

    Groups in existing bodies 

    • Agriculture: in special sessions of the Agriculture Committee.
    • Services: in special sessions of the Services Council.
    • Geographical indications, a multilateral registration system: in special sessions of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Other TRIPS issues are given priority in regular TRIPS Council meetings.
    • Dispute Settlement Understanding: in special sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body.
    • Environment: in special sessions of the Trade and Environment Committee.
    • Negotiations on outstanding implementation issues: in relevant bodies according to paragraph 12 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration.
    • The Declaration also places considerable emphasis on special and differential treatment for developing countries in three ways. It affirms that this is an integral part of the WTO agreements. All negotiations and other aspects of the Doha agenda's work programme are to take this principle fully into account. And all special and differential provisions are to be reviewed in special sessions of the Trade and Development Committee to make them more precise, effective and operational.


    Chairpersons of negotiating groups 

    (Until the Fifth Ministerial Conference in September 2003)

    • Council for Trade in Services, Special Session: Ambassador Alejandro Jara (Chile).
    • Negotiating Group on Market Access: Ambassador Pierre-Luis Girard (Switzerland).
    • Negotiating Group on Rules: Ambassador Timothy John Groser (New Zealand).
    • Committee on Trade and Environment, Special Session: Ambassador Yolande Biké (Gabon).
    • Council for TRIPS, Special Session: Ambassador Eui Yong Chung (Republic of Korea).
    • Dispute Settlement Body, Special Session: Ambassador Péter Balás (Hungary).
    • Committee on Agriculture, Special Session: Mr Stuart Harbinson (Hong Kong, China).
    • Committee on Trade and Development, Special Session: Ambassador Ransford Smith (Jamaica).


    Doha Development Agenda timetable 

    • Deadline for Dispute Settlement Understanding negotiations: May 2003.
    • Deadline for negotiations on registration system for geographical indications: Fifth Ministerial Conference (10-14 September 2003 in Cancun, Mexico).
    • Stocktaking: Fifth Ministerial Conference (10-14 September 2003 in Cancun, Mexico).
    • Deadline for other negotiations: by 1 January 2005 as a single undertaking.


    Main benefits to business from the WTO system 

    Benefits to exporters of goods and services: 

    • Security of access. Improved market access resulting from the tariff reductions agreed in the Uruguay Round will not be disrupted by sudden increases in rates of duties or the imposition of other restrictions. This covers almost all the tariffs of developed countries and a high proportion of those of developing and transition economies with regard to goods. In trade in services, countries have made binding commitments not to restrict access to their services markets beyond the conditions and limitations they specify.
    • Stability of investment conditions. The secured access to markets enables exporters to make investment and production plans under conditions of greater certainty.
    • Stability of access. All countries are required to apply, at the border, the uniform set of rules elaborated by the various agreements. The rules pertain, for example, to determining dutiable value for customs purposes, inspecting products to ascertain conformity to mandatory standards and the issue of import licences.

    Source: International Trade Rules: An Answer Book on the WTO Agreements for Small and Medium-sized Exporters (ITC, 2001). 


    Luis Ople is a public information officer at the World Trade Organization. He can be contacted at luis.ople@wto.org. For more information about the status of negotiations, see the WTO web site at http://www.wto.org